Guardian

Must Read Critique of Guardian Editorial Bias


The estimable Denis MacEoin has kindly given us permission to post this beautifully articulated critique  of the Guardian written by him a number of months ago to Elisabeth Ribbans, managing editor of the Guardian.

Dear Ms Ribbans,

Thank you very much indeed for your e-mail of the 25th. I have allowed a few days to elapse before answering, since I have wanted to collect my thoughts and come back to you in as uncomplicated a fashion as possible.

I was sorely tempted to respond with a lengthy account of why all or most of the war crimes allegations laid against Israel remain just that — allegations — or to show more conclusively that they are severally being refuted with growing vigour and in increasing details. But I’m aware that the evaluation of such evidence does not fall within your duties as Managing Editor. I shall refer to the allegations briefly below, but I don’t want them to be the primary focus of this letter, which is more a reply to yours than an attempt to engage in the specifics of a much broader debate.

I should perhaps say a few words about myself. I’m a former academic in Arabic, Persian and Islamic Studies, the author of several books and dozens of articles and encyclopedia entries on aspects of Islam; I am currently editor-designate of a leading journal on the Middle East, the Middle East Quarterly. I cite this merely to show that I am familiar with this territory.

Perhaps, too, I should add that I consider myself a liberal, a Guardian reader (though often an affronted one), somewhat centre-right nowadays, but a staunch supporter of human rights, women’s rights, gay rights, and the rights of religious minorities. It is precisely from those convictions that my admiration for and my defence of Israel stem. It is not far-right indulgence of Israeli ‘fascism’ or worse that drives me, but a centrist conviction that Israel is more sinned against than sinning. I know no other country in the Middle East that promotes the values I hold dearest: democracy, free speech, freedom of the press, and those rights for women, gays, and religious minorities. If I were to take you by the hand across the Middle East, from Morocco (where I have lived) to Iran (where I have lived as well), and beyond to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, those virtues would be nowhere evident. You would see no trace of democracy, you would see women oppressed, you would see young gay men dangling from ropes. Hence my deep concern when I see Israel traduced so many times in the Guardian, the very paper that should be holding it up as a flawed but dynamic model for democracy and ethical behaviour in the region.

You suggest that the Guardian does not malign Israel, but simply presents unbiased reporting of the facts. I do not wish to seem rude, but I think you are very wrong. The Guardian has for years been notorious for the vehemence of its anti-Israel views. I have seen with my own eyes any number of Guardian news reports slanted heavily against Israel, and a surfeit of op-eds voicing anti-Israel sentiment, including pieces written by apologists for Hamas and by two of its leaders. Hamas is without denial a virulently anti-Semitic terrorist organization whose very Charter commits it to the destruction of Israel and the fighting of jihad in preference to engaging in peace talks. The number of anti-Israel op-eds over the years has hugely outnumbered those in favour of the Jewish state. Azzam Tamimi alone has written some thirty-one pieces: this is a man who has said he wished he could be a suicide bomber in Israel. We have had large numbers of comment pieces from Ghada Karmi, a proponent of the one-state solution designed to eradicate Israel, and we have had pieces by Faisal Bodi, who famously wrote in the Guardian that Israel had no right to exist. The Guardian has published opinion pieces by two Hamas leaders, Ismail Haniyeh and Khalid Mish’al. Among other things, Mish’al has stated: ‘Before Israel dies, it must be humiliated and degraded. Allah willing, before they die, they will experience humiliation and degradation every day’. He is not a man I would have in my living-room. No decent person would shake his hand. The EU and many countries have declared Hamas to be a terrorist entity: I find it hard to understand why a liberal newspaper would give publicity to the leaders of what is, quite frankly, a fascist organization.

You say that ‘We flatly refute any suggestion that we’re “bent on condemning one side”’. I have already shown the extent to which Guardian opinion pages slant heavily towards a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel position. Over the years, I have never sensed any warmth in the Guardian towards Israel, and I have been troubled by a string of reports and opinions celebrating the Palestinian ‘resistance’, touching at times on the defence of very real moral depravity, from anti-Semitism to suicide bombing to the launching of thousands of rockets on civilian centres. You suggest that last week’s reports did not condemn one side. Please look at the main webpage archiving your coverage of the war-crimes allegations ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/series/gaza-war-crimes-investigation). There is indeed one entry covering allegations against Hamas. However, here is what you will find about Israel (I deal only with this single web page, not with any links): ‘Israeli war crimes allegations: what the law says’; ‘Will Israel be brought to book?’ (by Seumas Milne, not  a friend of Israel); ‘Gaza war crimes investigation: Israeli drones’; ‘Evidence of alleged Israeli war crimes’; ‘End this culture of Israeli impunity’; ‘The Israeli attacks’. There are three videos: ‘Cut to pieces: the family drinking tea in a courtyard’; ‘Palestinian brothers: used as human shields in Gaza’; and ‘Under attack: medics died trying to help casualties’. As well as: ‘Gazan war crimes: attacks on medics’; ‘Gazan war crimes investigation: human shields’. There are also links to audio reports.

Surely you will not deny that that constitutes a relentless focus on allegations against one side in the conflict. Over the years, I have waited to see the Guardian investigate in depth the very real evil of Palestinian terrorism, to carry a major report on the years of shelling of Sderot and Ashkelon, or even to publish and invite comment on the anti-Jewish and anti-peace Hamas Charter or the Risala Maftuha of Hizbullah. You may by now be aware that the Israeli embassy in London has spoken out against your coverage of Gaza ( http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1237727540196&pagename=JPArticle%2FShowFull), and you may know that the New York Times has already published what amounts to a retraction of their own anti-Israel ‘war crimes’ reports ( http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/28/world/middleeast/28israel.html?_r=2&hp).

I am also concerned that Guardian editors display a clear fondness for Arab and Palestinian sources than for Jewish or Israeli. On 21 March this year, Arab Media Watch held a dinner for 200 guests. Ian Black, the Guardian’s Middle East editor, was unable to attend, but sent a glowing tribute to the AMW. I would not deny that someone in Mr Black’s position should use AMW, but it’s worth saying that this organization is blatantly pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli. Their logo and name are shown in the colours of the Palestinian flag. I would have looked for some balance, perhaps with Mr Black’s honouring pro-Israel media organizations like BICOM, Just Journalism, Honest Reporting or MEMRI, but, as far as I’m aware, he has not made even a mild tribute to their work. Back in 2002, there was a rather bitter debate between Brian Whitaker and the founder of MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute), in which Whitaker made wild accusations against the institute. I won’t rehearse those here, but I will say that my many years of using material from MEMRI have convinced me that, although it’s selective, it does supply excellent transcripts and TV recordings for Arabic and Persian media. There really does seem to be an ingrained bias among Guardian journalists that favours the Arab or Palestinian narrative to that of Israel, and makes little pretence to genuine objectivity in any sense.

The thrust of my letter to the editor was, as you know, a hope that contextualization might help balance much of the Guardian’s reporting. Let me repeat this: the media are awash with allegations against Israel that are simply not true. No doubt some Israeli media carry their own distortions, but that is not the point. I am concerned with the context for your reporting, which is the existence of a general anti-Israeli myth that bears close resemblance in many respects to the myths about Jews that have been around for many centuries and show signs at the moment of being revived to potentially deadly effect.

This is particularly true of much of the Islamic media and the far left in Europe and America, but many of these falsehoods have taken hold elsewhere or have come to exert a subtle influence by creating an environment in which it is easy to create report and opinion pieces like those found in the Guardian. Some of these falsehoods are just political slogans: ‘Stop the Holocaust in Gaza’ or ‘Israelis are the new Nazis’ or ‘Israel is an apartheid state’. They are emotive, they have simply no basis in fact, yet vast numbers of people, clearly unable to examine any of them in detail, believe them. Naïve British people actually believe there has been a Holocaust in Gaza and seem unable to do the simple calculations that would show it to be an outrageous lie. This creates a toxic environment, in which it is all too easy to think Israel capable of anything and to believe it would be only natural for Israelis to kill children for sport or to use their blood to make matzos (this last blood libel imagery has been used in university settings in the US). There are also specific crimes laid at Israel’s door. The earliest and most famous is the repeated myth of an Israeli massacre at Deir Yassin during the 1948 conflict, which is at worst contentious in its much-disputed ‘facts’. The ‘massacre’ at Jenin in 2002 is still much quoted, despite the fact that a UN fact-finding mission declared that no such massacre had taken place. More recently, the ‘massacre’ of 40 children in an UNWRA school in Gaza on 6 January this year, was blazed across front pages and TV screens worldwide. Jeremy Paxman accused Israeli troops of deliberately firing in the school. In fact, as the UN later admitted, no Israeli rockets fell in the schoolyard as claimed, but in the street outside, from which Hamas had been firing. Some twelve people, not forty and not schoolchildren, died. Who will remember the true story when the lie has had such currency? Next year we may expect to see banners on the streets of London accusing Israel of ‘Massacre in UNWRA school’. I could cite many more examples, but I think the foregoing make my point: Israel has to fight wars on two fronts, against rockets, bullets, and bombs on the one hand, and against huge propaganda lies that circulate through the Internet and often appear in the media.

Given that context, I considered the Guardian’s rush to judgement over Gaza to be premature. As the days pass, that prematurity becomes more and more apparent. You gave great prominence to allegations that are now being withdrawn, allegations that were based on hearsay in the first place. Even when all the reports have been written and blame apportioned more fairly, I know from long experience that the balance sheet will not be drawn up on your front pages. I do not expect to see a front-page denunciation of Hamas’s numerous war crimes, just as I have never seen much condemnation of them or Hizbullah. I wrote my letter, which remains unpublished, to draw readers’ attention to the fact that allegations against Israel or the IDF have to be taken with many pinches of salt, that caution is needed. Responsible journalism takes account of he Big Lie, and in the case of Israel no balanced newspaper would rush to judgement quite so precipitously as the Guardian has done.

I am not asking you and your colleagues to become advocates of Israel or its policies. I only wish the Guardian could be a deal more fair, that it would run more stories on the positive things that happen in Israel (its treatment of religious minorities, for example, is stunning and unparalleled in the Middle East; its very real lack of racism is exemplary; and its gay rights parades an affront to all ultra-orthodox Jews and every single state in the region). And perhaps we could read more on the negative features of life in the West Bank or Gaza (honour killings of women, murders of homosexuals, the persecution of Christians?).  The positive stories are readily available. At the moment, Guardian reporters go to Gaza, interview a few civilians (under the very strict gaze of Hamas minders) and report back that Israel has done this or that terrible thing. But what would you say if you knew that Hamas would have no compunction about killing you and your family if you said anything favourable to Israel? The heavy reliance on Palestinian stringers and interviewees has been skilfully studied in Stephanie Gutmann’s The Other War: Israelis, Palestinians and the Struggle for Media Supremacy (2005), which I strongly recommend. Its cover alone speaks volumes. It shows a Palestinian boy seemingly in the act of throwing a stone. But he is not throwing anything at anyone. He is pretending to throw a stone at Israeli troops. Next to him are perhaps fifty reporters from the world press, photographing him. It is a fake, but it will have been used. I have seen many like this. Did anyone step away from that photo-shoot, pleading that the reporters job is to tell the truth?

Let me leave you with a short and straightforward story from the recent Gaza war:

Col. Roi Elkabets, commander of an armoured brigade, told of occasions when fire was held. His troops saw “a woman, about 60 years old, walking with a white flag and six to eight children behind her, and behind them was a Hamas fighter with his gun. “We did not shoot him.”

I desperately hope to see stories like that in the Guardian in future. Israeli troops are not jack-booted SS soldiers, they are often kindly, helpful, and moral. They operate according to a strict code of ethics. Some do wrong. But soldiers in any army do wrong. The IDF is more moral than most, and Hamas has shown itself to be without any morality at all, as witnessed in this recent conflict, when it dragged members of Fatah out of their hospital beds to shoot them, when it stationed troops inside hospitals, and when it placed rocket launching pads in schools and on civilian buildings.

I hope you will agree with me that the Guardian’s coverage of the Middle East could be improved. Would it make sense were I to suggest that there would be profit in a meeting between yourself with other members of your editorial board and some well-informed people representing the Israeli position, to see if we can sort out some better system, a modus vivendi that would allow you to work more fairly in this area? I don’t mean that we would place the Guardian under any pressure to follow our line of thinking, but simply that it may help formulate your policy if we can explain areas of concern. I can contact all the main players on this side (though I don’t suggest a large meeting). You may continue to believe that the Guardian is quite unbiased, in which case I will have been wasting my breath (or my typing fingers). But no story has one side, and I only ask for a way to persuade you that this conflict too is multifaceted

I look forward to hearing from you again.

Yours,

Denis MacEoin

And Ribbans didn’t even have the decency to pen a response. Says it all really doesn’t it.

Categories: Guardian

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71 replies »

  1. “…. PPPS and yes I remember you and what a slekit, cowardly and horrible thing you did to silence me….you picked the wrong anti Semite! :)…”

    Well, that didn’t take long, did it, boys and girls. Scratch the anti discriminator once and the real hater comes through.

    All of it proof positive that you may be able to take Berchmans out of CiF but you can never take CiF out of Berchmans.

  2. The paranoia levels on this site are sometimes extraordinary

    “……no doubt you would have wished them more success, but still, to kill off about one percent of a population in one year — that should be enough to give you at least some satisfaction, no? And yet another reason for you to cheer up is that one of the guys who called the shots on the Arab side was a guy who was wanted in the dock for the Nuremberg trials — instead, he was directing the Palestinian “resistance”: so you see, there was at least some of the kind of “justice” you would like to see prevail.”

    “IdiotMickey, there was no “massacre” at Deir Yassin. There was a battle in an Arab-declared civil war, in which both Jewish and Arab lives were lost.”

    You guys need to get a grip-

    All I did was ask a perfectly reasonable question. This site is in danger of becoming the mirror image of an anti-semitic site with “contributions” like yours.

  3. StickeyMickey, do you know what paranoia actually is? I doubt it, since you use the word so freely and inaccurately.

    Look it up.

    And then comb CiF for examples of paranoid projection if you need on operational definition.

    I have no idea whether “all” you did was ask a perfectly reasonable question – I don’t know you or whether or not you have another agenda for asking it – or whether you intended to ignite a flame war, but I confess to being intrigued – what is your interest in Deir Yassin and why single out that part of Denis MacEoin’s excellent article?.

  4. It’s a great letter, but hardly surprising it never got a reply. I gave up years ago bothering to write the editors of this rag about something that could only be seen as their conscious agenda.

    Besides their thousands of examples of bias over the years that can be found, one that stands out clearly is here:
    In their webpage – “Israel and the Middle East – Key Events”
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/comment/0,10551,626719,00.html
    for the year 1994 the only event shown is
    “1994 – Baruch Goldstein, a demented Jewish zealot in the flashpoint West Bank town of Hebron, goes beserk in the town’s most historic mosque, killing 29 Arabs with his assault rifle. “?

    Amazingly ignored as key events are:
    1. May 1994 – The Gaza/Jericho agreement in Cairo between Israel and
    the PA giving autonomy to the Palestinian Authority in those areas – Surely a Key Event

    2. July 1994 – The Israel/Jordan peace treaty – Surely a Key Event

    In light of the only event that this paper does show, would it not be equitable to also have:
    3. 40 Israelis murdered by demented terrorists in numerous beserk
    attacks throughout that year – most following the granting of autonomy to the PA?

    They’ve been notified many times about this since more than 6 years ago, and haven’t changed a word of it.

  5. Yvonne-

    Paranoia-

    baseless or excessive suspicion of the motives of others.

    I merely questioned whether Deir Yassin was a “myth” as described by McEoin. I wasn’t aware that whether a massacre took place was considered particularly contentious (even the Jewish Agency apologised at the time). Simply asking this question has been interpreted by some on this thread as a desire to see Jews die in great numbers. Perhaps it’s not paranoia-What would you call it?

    “I don’t know you or whether or not you have another agenda for asking it – or whether you intended to ignite a flame war, but I confess to being intrigued – what is your interest in Deir Yassin and why single out that part of Denis MacEoin’s excellent article?.”

    Sounds like more paranoia…….

    (baseless or excessive suspicion of the motives of others).

  6. SilverTrees

    .

    ## I am not entering discussions with you about anything.##

    .

    Sounds fair enough but a warning..you mention me again in any post and I will bonk you in front of your friends. If you apologise for your cowardly and yucky attept to silence me.. I will forgive you.. I am that sort of chap.

    .

    TAD

    .

    LicketySplit

    .

    ## Scratch the anti discriminator once and the real hater comes through.##

    Whilst that was obvious and a well worn path.. ” hater” is so hackneyed it is actually a compliment..

    .

    ##you may be able to take Berchmans out of CiF but you can never take CiF out of Berchmans.##

    .

    This was original and funny. You take care.

    B

  7. StickeyMickey, I have seen your post about mohelim on the thread about Rosa Freedman.

    I stand by what I said, Sticky old fellah, in the light of the uncalled for salacious detail in that post.

    Again, I wonder about the frame of mind and the agenda of one who can post like that.

  8. Yvonne

    salacious

    arousing or appealing to sexual desire or imagination

    Rabbis sucking on newly-circumcised babies’ penises is “salacious”? I’m beginning to wonder about your frame of mind!

    “Again, I wonder about the frame of mind and the agenda of one who can post like that”

    Let me guess-

    Someone who comments about circumcision on a thread pertaining to circumcision must be a genocidal anti-semite.

    Is that the general thrust of your wondering?

  9. You have to admit StickeyMickey that you do have, (how should we describe it in order to be polite?) a somewhat unusual approach to this discussion.

    I mean, of all the comments you might have made about the pros and cons of circumcision (assuming of course that you knew what you were talking about) you actually commented as you did…

  10. Yvonne

    I think I know what you mean-

    We have to pretend that circumcision controversies are specific to Islam when making comments. Anything else would be an “unusual approach”.

  11. I think that I will write a paper about the surreal world of some posters here, as evidenced by their rapidly decompensating behaviour. Two immediately spring to mind.

    Editors, may I have your permission to do that?

  12. StickeyMickey please tell us how exactly this thread is pertaining to circumcision, other than by your mentioning if above? If you had gone so off topic at “the other place” your post might have been removed because it was off topic. (Or perhaps it wouldn’t, the content of it being what it was)off-topic.

    Yvonne, please leave this ignorant twerp severely alone. He sounds like Dotty/Leon Wells and we shouldn’t encourage either him or his delusional friend Berchmans here.

  13. oops. Let’s try again that first paragraph, shall we?

    StickeyMickey please tell us how exactly this thread is pertaining to circumcision, other than by your mentioning if above? If you had gone so off topic at “the other place” your post might have been removed (Or perhaps it wouldn’t, the content of it being what it was).

    Second para as above.

  14. SilverTrees

    “StickeyMickey please tell us how exactly this thread is pertaining to circumcision, other than by your mentioning if above?”

    Don’t ask me- I’m simply responding to Yvonne’s comments. She seems to be under the impression that a comment I made on another thread pertaining to circumcision is germane to this thread. Let me quote her earlier comment to dispel your confusion-

    “StickeyMickey, I have seen your post about mohelim on the thread about Rosa Freedman.

    I stand by what I said, Sticky old fellah, in the light of the uncalled for salacious detail in that post.

    Again, I wonder about the frame of mind and the agenda of one who can post like that.”

  15. Yvonne

    On SilverTree’s behalf please tell us how exactly this thread is pertaining to circumcision, other than by your mentioning if [sic] above?

  16. “…you mention me again in any post and I will bonk you in front of your friends…”

    Aw shucks, Berchmans,

    I bet you say that to all the boys…

  17. Yup, StickyMickey

    It seems that you are quite correct.

    It wasn’t particularly germane to that thread either (ie it didn’t contribute much to the discussion) there.

    Apols to SilverTrees for confusing StickeyMickey.

    Still this blog got the hits…..

  18. to enter the Haram al-Sharif, known to Jews as the Temple Mount

    EH!!! I think I know many “Jews” who wouldn’t give a toss what the name is in Hebrew, Arabic or English. Doesn’t the writer mean ISRAELIS???

    Doesn’t everyone in the Western World call it The Temple Mount??